Director: Jess Franco
Image Entertainment

Prolific is an understatement for director Jess Franco, especially during the very busy 1970s. Shortly after his association with producer Harry Alan Towers had ended at the beginning of the decade, Franco continued to crank one film out after the other, embracing every exploitation theme possible, especially the sex/horror genre. The film in question here, “La Noche de Los Asesinos,” has been retitled “Night of the Skull” for its American home video debut, and although the cover art might hint at yet another take on the zombie theme, the film is basically a murder mystery which the Spanish credits tell us was inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Wallace. It’s tame as far as mid 1970s Franco films go, but Francophiles will still find this gothic obscurity of considerable interest.

In Louisiana, wealthy seaside land owner Lord Archibald Marion is beaten and buried alive outside in the mud during a pouring rain. His murder brings on a number of suspects including his much younger philandering wife, his abused illegitimate daughter, the weirdo servant couple, and the various conceited relatives who pop in for the reading of his puzzling will. More murders ensue, and a top man from Scotland Yard is brought in to investigate.

Pretty ordinary in almost every way and somewhat convoluted, NIGHT OF THE SKULL has Franco in retro mode, harkening back to the stylish black and white “krimis” from 15 years earlier, though the skull-masked black-hooded killer could even be a nod to the 1940s cliffhanger, THE CRIMSON GHOST. Some reference books say that this was shot in 1973 (which wouldn’t be surprising, considering where Franco’s filmography stood in 1976), and as a darkly lit period piece shot in widescreen, the film is very reminiscent in appearance to Joe D'Amato’s DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER. With the expected zooms and claustrophobic close-ups, Franco manages to include some stylish murder sequences, including one in which the buried-alive victim is found with only his squeezed hands sticking out of the rainy mud. Surpisingly, the film is not that exploitive, with only sprouts of blood and violence, and just several brief peeks at bare female breasts and buttocks.

The cast is made up of Franco regulars, including wife Lina Romay (at her most youthful cuteness) as the abused daughter subjected to a brief bit of S&M flogging, and later forms a humble relationship with a young man who may or may not be her brother. International Euro star William Berger (FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON and Franco’s LOVE LETTERS FROM A PORTUGUESE NUN among many others) is mostly wasted in a smaller role as one of the conniving relatives, but like always, has the kind of face to pull off these bastard type characters. Evelyne Scott (from the Paul Naschy vehicle CRIMSON and Franco’s LADY PORNO) plays Berger’s estranged wife, and Alberto Dalbes (from countless Spanish horror films, many directed by Franco) is hammy as ever as the British police detective. Yelena Samarina (Waldemar Daninsky’s cursed sister in WEREWOLF SHADOW) and bruting Franco staple Luis Barboo (THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN, FEMALE VAMPIRE, etc.) play a very strange married couple who tend to the manor. Franco himself appears as the longhaired executor of the will, who happens to have a bad hangover and requests gin as he awakens.

On DVD, the film is presented in its original 2.35:1 Scope aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Overall, the transfer looks good with fine detail and decent, if not overly vivid colors. There are some slight blemishes on the print source, but nothing major, and several scenes appear a bit too dark, probably due to poor lighting during shooting. The mono audio track is a Spanish language option only, with optional English subtitles. This film mostly likely never had an English audio track, so that’s why that option was not included here. (George R. Reis)